Welly’s wanting for vibe

JON CARDINELLI says Wellington has failed to replicate the hype and excitement that characterised the build up to the tournament opener in Auckland.

Auckland set some pretty high standards. As you walked the city streets down to the Viadcut, you got the sense that some big and significant event was about to commence. It wasn’t just the flags in the shop windows, or the gimmicky games and stalls at the Waterfront. It wasn’t sign after sign reminding you that a World Cup was about to kick off, cuz, and you had better be ready.

It was more a sense of mounting excitement, a positive energy shared by foreigners and locals alike. It all reached a powerful climax at that opening ceremony at Eden Park, and if you were at the ground, you couldn’t help but be swept up in the moment. If this fantastic opening was just the start, I told a colleague, we should expect even greater excitement in the weeks to come. New Zealand would give us a tournament to remember. Right?

Unfortunately, I’m starting to have my doubts that these excitement levels can be sustained for six whole weeks. Some of my colleagues claim that Queenstown is the place to be, while those who watched the minnow clashes in Rotorua and Whangarei feel the Rugby World Cup spirit is alive and well. Myself and Ryan Vrede, however, have been based in Wellington for the past week, and compared to Auckland, it has been pretty dull.

Peter de Villiers said on Monday that Wellington can give you five seasons in one day, but on some days it’s felt as if we’ve had five winters all at once. The driving rain and bone-chilling wind was never going to keep South African and Welsh supporters away from Sunday’s game, but it has kept the tourists in check in the days that have followed.

We’ve had some bitterly cold weather, even when the sun’s been at its highest, and when the rain has hit, it’s hit hard. Tuesday was the worst, with lighting and hailstones adding to the apocalyptic experience.

There were no World Cup matches scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and that certainly effected the vibe. On Wednesday, I took a walk down to the Fan Park at the Waterfront to watch the Samoa vs Namibia and Tonga vs Canada games on the big screen. Samoa supporters turned out in their scores and there were a fair few Canadians, but it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a festival atmosphere.

Perhaps my expectations are too high. I came to this World Cup expecting an all-out rock concert, but at the moment it seems as if the band has taken a break to play unplugged tracks. Nothing has quite lived up to the opening act.

I chatted to a member of the Springbok management about the subdued vibe in Wellington, and he admitted that he was also surprised and a little disappointed. And only four days remain before the Boks head north to Taupo, a beautiful yet smaller and quieter place.

Before the tournament, the Bok management decided to base the team in Taupo for their last two pool matches, even though Taupo is some 250kms from where the Boks will play Namibia and Samoa at the North Harbour Stadium. The coaches wanted to shield the players and give them a break from the general World Cup madness. Judging by what we’ve seen in the last few days, a break from the hype is not really needed.

Following Saturday’s clash against Fiji, Vrede and I will follow the Boks up to Taupo in our (thus far) trusty campervan – it fetches and carries, hence the nickname of ‘Heinrich’. We’re expecting better weather, but not holding our breath for a better World Cup vibe. Hopefully by the time we get back to Wellington for the quarter-finals, the tournament would have got a second wind.

The public pressure is definitely on the All Blacks, and boy have they copped some criticism in the last week. Apart from reading the Kiwi media, we’ve had some time to listen to what the locals have been saying on the various radio stations. No Kiwi will be satisfied with anything less that a World Cup title, and new team or not, the All Blacks are expected to annihilate Japan at the weekend.

‘We wont settle for mediocrity!’ screamed one shock jock at a caller who had tried to persuade listeners to curb their criticism and get behind the team. If the Blacks choke again, there will be absolute carnage.

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